Car Tune-Up: Warning Signs & Complete Checklist

Learn to determine when your car might be due for a tune-up.

We’ve all been there. The check engine light pops up on your dash and you think to yourself: Not again?! But rather than ignore that notification, or any other maintenance light for that matter, for weeks or even months, schedule a tune-up with your mechanic and give your car a little TLC.

While often seen as just another “have to,” getting your car tuned up at regular, mechanic-recommended intervals should be a priority. And although you probably already know that a routine tune-up requires safety checks, what exactly is your mechanic looking at?

Typically during a tune-up session, your mechanic will visually check the components of your engine’s fuel system as well as the PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valve and your car’s ignition timing. The next part of a tune-up service is the actual tune-up. Depending on the findings, your mechanic may replace caps, spark plugs, automotive or electric wires, PCV valve, and/or rotor.

How to tell If your car needs a tune-up?

  • Engine light turns on
    Your car’s check engine light is connected to its onboard diagnostics system and turns on when your vehicle’s computer believes there is a problem that could affect or is affecting the emissions control system.

    From a loose fuel cap to bad spark plug wires, there are several reasons why the check engine light comes on. So when your check engine light illuminates, take your car to a service center for inspection and maintenance.

  • Brake issues
    Your car needs immediate attention when your brake pedal starts feeling spongy or your brakes start producing weird noises (whining, scraping, or squealing noises). Brake issues are something you should not take lightly. Ask a brake repair expert to look into the matter before things take a turn for the worse.
  • Stalling
    Does your car lag for a moment when you try to accelerate after first starting it up? This can be a warning sign indicating that something is wrong with your vehicle. Don’t ignore the problem and consult your mechanic immediately.
  • Vibrations
    If braking, steering, or starting your car causes vibrations or shaking, there could be multiple issues at play. Instead of ignoring the problem, and waiting too long, take your car in for inspection by a trusted certified mechanic.
  • Bad gas mileage
    Are you making more frequent stops at the gas station? A few common causes of bad gas mileage are incorrect tire pressure, faulty oxygen sensors, and bad fuel injectors. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic and ask them to get to the root cause of your gas-guzzling problem. 

Car tune-up checklist

Ever wonder what happens during a tune-up? Typically, your mechanic will:

  • Remove dust and dirt particles clogging filters, and replace the oil, fuel, and cabin air filters.
  • Check different components of the ignition system.
  • Check and top up fluids.
  • Inspect and replace hoses and belts.

If you think your car needs a tune-up, request an appointment at any of the AAA Owned Auto Repair Centers near you. Or, find a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility in your neighborhood. AAA Members receive a 10% discount on labor and a 24-month, 24,000-mile warranty. Not a Member? Not a problem! All are welcome.